Monday, July 16, 2018

How Baseball Resembles the Market System and Why Rod Carew-Style Hitters Will Return


By George Will

It is a prudential axiom: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. This reflects the awareness that things can always be made worse, and it reflects the law of unintended consequences, which is that they often are larger than and contrary to intended ones. As baseball reaches the all-star break amid lamentations about several semi-broken aspects of it, it is time to amend the axiom: Don’t fix it, even if it is broken.

The itch to fix complex systems often underestimates the ability of markets, broadly understood, to respond and adapt to incentives. So, even if you are an unsatisfactory American — i.e., uninterested in baseball — read on, because the debate about some of the game’s current defects contains lessons about lesser things than baseball, meaning everything else.

Today’s all-or-nothing baseball is too one-dimensional. There are too many strikeouts — for the first time in history, more than hits, a lot more. And the number is increasing for the 13th consecutive season. Also, too many of the hits are home runs. It was imprecise for Crash Davis (Kevin Costner’s character in “Bull Durham”) to say that strikeouts are “fascist,” but he was right that they are “boring,” at least in excessive quantities. So are home runs (and caviar, and everything else except martinis). In about one-third of today’s at-bats, the ball is not put in play (home run balls are put in the seats). Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci notes that by the end of June there were “more strikeouts in half a season than there were in the entire 1980 season.” And “on average, you have to wait [3 minutes and 45 seconds] between balls put in play — 41 seconds longer between movement than 20 years ago.” Steals (hence pitchouts), sacrifice bunts, hit-and-run plays — interesting things for fans — are becoming rarer.

This is not the main reason attendance is down.

Read the rest here.